We boarded a stale old bus bound for Potosi, and an older woman in bowler hat and skirts promptly sat on my shoulder. We felt a dilemma we’ve often had in South American buses — you have the instinct to give your seat to the elderly. Yet on these buses, one must pay for a seat, and those standing have paid much less. Do you give your seat away? We didn’t have to ponder too long; the bus chugged pathetically up steep tan mountains, and the woman disembarked at a small adobe settlement, the same color as the hills.

As the bus strained up and down mountains (but mostly up), adobe villages came and went, and we marveled at the impossibility of their locations. Stopping in a little town, everyone went in search of "nature’s toilet." Returning to the bus, "technicians" were pouring water through vents in the dashboard, and it splattered from behind the bumper, all over the dusty road. Not a good sign.

We chatted with fellow passengers — Argentinians, Britons, Germans — in the middle of the road. We made a new friend, Kirsten, who we’d see again in Potosi. Our gawky white presence seemed to amuse grannies sitting at road’s edge.

The bus wheezed and started, and we rode for another couple hours. Local people occasionally got on and off.

Passing another bus, which had broken down, we were glad it wasn’t us. Then ours broke down. We stood roadside amongst shallow pools and llamas, well within sight of the other bus and its marooned passengers (see above photo). The bus people poured water through the dash and tinkered. Small boys from a nearby settlement rode bikes over to watch the tourists. After twenty minutes, we began to worry, but the engine sputtered back to life.

We continued on to Potosi without further incident. It was interesting to enter this town built entirely on nude hillsides.

At the station, Jason realized his down coat, hat and scarf had been nicked on the bus. This wasn’t our favorite journey.